Congressman tours areas affected by storms, outages

Residents and officials critical of power company's response


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  • U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ5) addresses firefighters, residents and officials at Green Township Fire House concerning the response to power outages due to two snow storms




  • Green Township resident Hal Collen, whose house has been without power for over a week




  • Green Township Mayor Daniel Conkling




By Joseph Picard

— Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ5) came to Green Township Friday and declared it Groundhog Day.

“We are all frustrated with the response of the power companies and utilities to the storm damage and the outages,” the Congressman told firefighters, residents and municipal officials gathered at the Green Township Fire House. “There are still people without power, without heat, without running water. The situation is unacceptable. There is mismanagement, there appears to be no strategy. And we have been through this before. We have had this conversation before. It’s like Groundhog Day.”

Groundhog Day — the classic 1993 movie about a weatherman forced to relive the same events again and again — provided an apt analogy to what many Sussex County residents are experiencing, losing power in a snow storm last week, then losing it again this week when a second major snow storm walloped the region. Some families who lost power in the first storm have yet to have it restored.

Furthermore, it’s like Groundhog Day to some county residents and officials because the power company, Jersey Central Power & Light, has faced similar criticism for poor response and restoration times for storms in past years.

“You would have thought they would have learned their lesson after Sandy,” Green Township Mayor Daniel Conkling said. “Apparently not. The JCP&L response has been terrible. There’s mismanagement and miscommunication. Wrong information. They give restoration times, then fail to meet them. Management does not seem to know where its crews are. This is an issue of a monopoly not performing its responsibilities. If you don’t like a restaurant, you can go to another one. But you can’t do that with the power company. We’re stuck with them.”

“The company is run by amateurs,” said Hal Collen, a resident of Hibler Road, where approximately 25 homes were still without power on Friday March 9. Collen said his house has been without power since Friday March 2.

“Their communications system is abysmal,” Collen said. “Sometimes, it tells you power will be restored tomorrow. Other times, it tells you next week. There’s no organization. They seem to be incompetent, to misapply the information they have.”

Green Township Administrator Mark Zschack said between 120 and 140 township homes were still without power.

As of 4 p.m. Friday, there were reportedly still over 100,000 New Jersey homes and businesses without power. In Sussex County, according to JCP&L, which has over 57,000 customers in the county, approximately 1,700 still were without power. According to its press releases, the company is working diligently to correct all outages as quickly as possible, although its state restoration times for the majority of affected county customers is next Wednesday March 14.

Gottheimer, who went on to tour affected areas in Green Township and nearby Frelinghuysen Township, called the March 14 restoration date “unacceptable.” JCP&L did not return calls for comment.

“It appears that what mayors and other local officials are saying about the situation on the ground is not getting up the chain of command at JCP&L,” Gottheimer said. “We want to know what kind of plan they have, if any. First, we have to get through this emergency. Then we have to get to the bottom of what caused this inadequate response.”

On Saturday, Gottheimer again criticized JCP&L, as well as New York-based Orange & Rockland Utilities (which services West Milford and other New Jersey municipalities in the 5th Congressional District) for their slow and confusing responses.

"With another storm potentially on its way early this week, it's clear that JCP&L and O&R have not been moving fast enough to get the lights back on and they have not had a well-coordinated effort," Gottheimer said. "We need to return power to residents of North Jersey, who have been living in the dark for more than a week. I hope that company executives will join me in meeting in front of the residents that they have let down this week, and I hope that they will do everything in their power to fix this mess."

By Tuesday, March 13, although additional snow had fallen, JCP&L had reduced outages to its Sussex County customers to 134 with, according to the power company, all power restored to Green Township residents and the remaining outages to be corrected before March 14.





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